I’ve watched in fascination the last few years as bestselling authors Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult have spoken out about the lesser-than-thou treatment women authors receive from book reviewers. Weiner has been particularly vocal, and her biggest and most famous beef is with the New York Times, which she says has given short shrift to female authors in its Sunday books section.
(True? Actually, yes, Weiner is not just some crazy lady writer. People started counting. And the results were depressingly detailed by VIDA in 2010, and again in 2011).
Why does it matter? Do people who pick up a book give a crap whether the author is male or female? I don’t. It’s honestly not something I’ve thought much about in the past. A good book is a good book, period.
But the hard truth is that when book reviewers pay attention to particular authors or titles, it spreads the word. People will pre-order the book, or put in a request at the library for it (leading the library to order more copies) or mark it down on their Christmas wish list. Sometimes the reviews work as a heads up that a favorite writer has a new book coming out soon. Either way, attention to books online, in print or on the radio matters very much. From I gather, good reviews lead to more pre-orders and sales, which means the publisher pays more attention to that book and writer, which leads to a bigger print run, more money for marketing, a better likelihood that the author will get to write more books in the future… You get the idea.
So the 10,000-foot view of this is that if female authors don’t get the same shot at coverage, they might not earn as much in royalties or have the same chances to continue publishing. Ugh.
I took just enough women’s studies classes in college to get thoroughly pissed off at this big fat self-fulfilling circle.
There’s an interesting roundup of the issue on the Huffington Post here, and from the Ask Angie blog here. Thanks to the hullabaloo, I’m paying more attention to who I’m reading. And I’m pre-ordering more books as a small gesture to support the writers I love to read.
Reading is personal. So what does this mean on a local level?
After rescuing the SA Life section from my one-year-old, I counted bylines and authors on our books page. Here’s the breakdown for Sunday, June 24, 2010:
- Five stories/book reviews.
- Female authors: 2. Male authors: 3.
- Bylines: 5 male.
The Express-News also published a poem by Juan Manuel Perez. (Side note: I think it is awesome that we publish poetry, and this one is called “El Chupacabra: An Introduction,” which absolutely made me want to read it).
Several of the reviews/stories had a local connection – those writers might be in San Antonio for a signing or talk, and the coverage helps bring attention to those events. There’s often a regional focus, featuring the authors who are in town, who live nearby or set a story in Texas. It’s how you make your books pages different than any others.
But one week of the books pages is no trend. I’ll keep a running tally here to see how the issue stacks up here in San Antonio over time. Maybe we’ll turn out to be more enlightened than the media elite, who have a gender diversity record that looks a lot like Congress’ approval ratings. Maybe we have a more diverse mix of genres represented on our books pages, or give more exposure to Hispanic authors or regional authors that might get short shrift in other parts of the country, or pay more attention to debut authors. However you want to slice and dice it, spread the word when you find a great book or writer.